Meet our graduates | Brian Seabrooks, BS '21
July 6, 2021. Interviewed by Jim Fabry. Edited for length and clarity.
As part of MS&E's 2021 graduates podcast series, we chatted with Brian Seabrooks, a recent graduate of the bachelor's program in Management Science and Engineering.
Brian shares his journey from being a physics major to MS&E and his passion for creating tangible impact in the world. He also shares stories about his time at Stanford and offers advice to MS&E students.
My name is Brian Seabrooks. I'm a graduate from Stanford’s MS&E department, and I'm from Fairfield, California.
How did you become interested in engineering?
I initially came into Stanford as a physics major, without a clear scope of how majors were like in college. Physics was one of my favorite classes in high school, and I figured I would study that. But I knew I didn’t want to be a scientist nor did I have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with physics. After freshman Fall quarter, I transitioned away from majoring in physics. Although I still found physics to be interesting, I wanted to do something more tangible and less theoretical. Something that would allow me to go and do something in the world in a hands-on way.
There was a lot of buzz around engineering at Stanford, and I remember hearing that Stanford has exceptional engineering programs. I had been leaning towards it before, but at the same time, I was also interested in a few other degrees, like econ, Mathematical and Computational Science (MCS) and math. But overall, I thought MS&E would allow me more flexibility to take courses across a lot of different areas. To summarize, I think engineering has so many real-world applications that really interest me, so I'm very happy with my decision.
What attracted you to MS&E?
I remember in high school I really liked that math could be used to describe physical reality. And what was interesting to me about MS&E, on the quantitative side, is they were using math to describe social phenomena, or describe things going on in the economy, things going on within an individual company. My interests have always leaned more towards not just hard sciences, but quantitative-oriented areas of study. I think I'll probably continue to lean towards quantitative-focused areas.
If I were to apply for graduate school, I think I'd want to explore a subject within engineering, like statistics, or a particular branch of mathematics, or computer science. I prefer the engineering side of things because I think it keeps the problem more grounded to the point where the solution really needs to be a solution. That aspect really attracted me to MS&E.
What is your area of concentration and how did you decide on it?
At one point I thought I was going to do the coterm in MS&E. And so I inadvertently did a few courses that expanded my areas of concentration. I’ve chosen the finance and decision concentration by taking four courses within that area, and also four courses within the operations and analytics concentration. For finance and decision, I fulfilled my interest within economics. I really liked the econ courses I took earlier at Stanford, but I found I was more interested in the methods within economics rather than the more theoretical courses. MS&E’s finance and decision track focuses a lot on quantitative methods that you can apply to many subjects within economics. That was my basis for choosing the finance and decision track. I also think the skills learned in that concentration are really valuable to know if you're ever going to be in a position where you're having to make financial decisions either for yourself or for an organization. I really enjoyed those classes.
In choosing the dual concentration of operations and analytics, that stemmed from my desire to lean more towards the quantitative side of the major. It's essentially data science, and I feel that most situations I could find myself in professionally going forward would be able to leverage a data science toolkit. Furthermore, working with different technologies, I think it's helpful to understand some of the principles behind how these things work. Overall, I think these concentrations within MS&E give students a lot of confidence that they can handle challenges in those areas that they may encounter.
What are your career plans after Stanford and how did you decide on them?
My immediate career plan after graduation is to work in consulting. I will be working at the Boston Consulting Group in New York. I had an idea that I'd be working there, because I was able to do an internship there after my sophomore year. It’s exciting to be going into the professional world and working at BCG in particular. MS&E equipped me with very useful skill sets that I'd hope to be able to leverage to make an impact within BCG.
At BCG, I knew that I would have opportunities to continue to develop professionally and expand on my skills in certain areas, so consultancy seemed like a pretty logical option in those regards. I also really liked the idea of being able to work on multiple cases, and over time, navigate to areas that interest me more within the company. It offers a lot of flexibility and allows me to leverage a lot of the basic business training, as well as the quantitative training, that MS&E gave me.
In the long-term, I want to have my own business or at least take a shot at launching my own business. I understood that that wasn't necessarily the best for me to do straight after college; I think I have a lot more things that I can learn personally, get some stability, get some professional credentials, and have a little bit of money in the bank account before trying to do something which might be riskier. Startups were also very appealing to me, but it just seemed to me that it can be somewhat fast-moving and hectic—management may or may not take an interest in your career development to help build out and expand your skill set. I’ve been fortunate to learn this by talking to people who were working at startups who had graduated from MS&E.
What type of work most interests you?
Right now, my two top choices for where I want to work within BCG are in their technology practice and their industrial practice. I really hope to work on technology cases, specifically things that involve software or emerging technologies. So I want to work within the technology practice first, and second in their industrial practice. There’s a group called “industry 4.0,” which focuses on robotics and manufacturing and improving factory processes that leverage some of my technology interests.
In the industrial practice, you get a chance to work on things like smarter factories that have connected devices and robotics, and improving manufacturing processes. I think that's really interesting, and there's also fewer people trying to do that at this point. It would be a really cool skill set to try to build out, given that there's so many people from Stanford who know everything about software, they know everything about AI, and I feel like this industrial sector and improving more historic industries like automotive or manufacturing or infrastructure is kind of an underlooked area.
What impact do you hope to have with a MS&E degree?
I really hope I can have an impact. The projects that I worked on during my internship at BCG often had a dynamic where there is a lot at stake, where the deliverable that you're working towards is important and there will be a tangible result that is helping a company to move in a different direction, launch a new product, or change some sort of internal strategy.
Teams within BCG that are exclusively focused on advising companies about developing new products or improving existing products are something that I'd really like. I think that’s an area where you can really have certainty that you're doing things that are going to have tangible results out in the world.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your last year at Stanford?
I can't say that it's been ideal, but it also hasn't been horrible. At the beginning of the pandemic, being fairly naive and not a public health expert, I thought that spring quarter would be the only quarter of online instruction, so I decided to take that quarter off to focus on some personal projects since I thought I’d be back in the autumn. I was actually happy to be able to do that; I practiced to improve my Spanish. So I'm ultimately glad that I didn't take classes during that time since a year ago it was just so stressful.
For fall quarter, it was somewhat straightforward to transition to just taking the classes online since many classes that I was in, I had taken previous classes with the same professors, so I was more used to their teaching style and how the classes would work. The MS&E department was particularly well-suited to handle that sort of challenge, because a lot of the things that they were doing before the pandemic were already leveraging what you could do online. There were already Zoom office hours for some classes, and there were already uploaded recordings of lectures. But I did find that motivation was harder to come by and had to come more from yourself, internally, because when you're on campus and all your friends are in classes and are working hard, it's a little easier to find that motivation and to get the work done.
In some ways, I think there were some advantages to taking classes online, because you had more flexibility in your schedule and it was easier to take overlapping classes because the recordings for the classes would be posted. So I think it worked out more or less for me. Overall, I think that the staff in the department and the professors have done a really good job of adapting to the way things are.
What advice would you give to a future MS&E student?
The MS&E curriculum provides a really great structure to follow, especially when you know that you're interested in some of the MS&E topics but you're not sure exactly which areas you might really want to develop deeper knowledge in. The first few classes that MS&E wants you to take—classes like Econ 50, the 120 series, 106A and B—those first classes did an excellent job of helping me figure out where I wanted to go a little bit deeper. With the 120 series, I knew that I really wanted to learn more about probability and statistics. And taking Econ 50, I knew that I was very interested in the economic side of some issues. If you know that you want to major in MS&E, the entry-level classes are really great to take early. I took them my sophomore year, and it gave me great perspective on how I could really leverage my remaining time at Stanford to learn exactly what I wanted. I appreciated being able to take those classes somewhat early and being able to have a good idea of what I wanted to do going forward with the degree.
There's a lot of classes that count toward MS&E that are not in the department, and I think that those are always worth exploring. I took a few stats classes that I was able to count toward MS&E. There are also a few math classes and econ classes that you can count toward the degree, too. It's a good way to meet students from other departments, if that's what you're looking to do, and also get slightly different perspectives. For example, I have a friend who took a financial economics class, and I realized that they taught pretty much the same things, but in a different way, as an investment science class within MS&E. It was interesting to see how different departments or different schools presented material, because I realized that MS&E presents the economic material in a more quantitative way. So definitely don't rule out taking classes in other departments.
I think the concentrations do a pretty good job of helping you to build out a skill set in a specific area. A lot of people go on to graduate studies, but I wanted to complete my education by the end of my undergraduate years, and I thought that I should go a little bit further within a couple of the tracks than was actually required of me. It's important to think about your path early because a lot of the classes might have prerequisites, so it's good to be aware of those.
I wanted my education to be a little bit unique to myself, and I didn't want to perfectly overlap what I did with other MS&E students; I wanted to take my own unique path through the major. And a lot of my friends who have also tried to make their MS&E experience unique in some way or some aspect are really happy with that decision. My friend who was also majoring in MS&E wanted to leverage MS&E within the sustainability field, and he was able to tailor the classes he took to be well-suited towards going into that field. There aren't many other students in the department who do that, and I think it's cool that he knows he has the skill set, and he knows that his degree is just a little bit different than some of the other students in the department.
Overall, just enjoy the rest of what Stanford has to offer. There are a lot of ways to learn outside of the classroom.
How quick and easy was the shift from majoring in physics to MS&E?
I came in at the very beginning as a physics major. I took two physics classes, which actually counted towards MS&E, and a couple math classes. I realized by winter quarter freshman year that physics wasn't for me. I took an econ intro seminar winter quarter freshman year, and I realized I wanted to start moving in this other direction. I was able to make the switch fairly easily. It was pretty straightforward.
I'd honestly say that sophomore year was probably my hardest year at Stanford. I think the foundational classes tend to have the most difficulty, because it’s mostly new stuff. I'm currently taking MS&E 245B this quarter and another class called MS&E 448, and the material is mainly reformulations of things that I learned a while ago, so they're just much easier to pick up and use. Whereas during sophomore year, I had never heard of l what a Lagrangian is, or I had never heard of some idea within statistics, and then I had to spend a lot of time getting familiarized with the idea itself. The material that I’m currently learning is still engaging and not as time-consuming, because I had already been exposed to a lot of the concepts earlier on.
What will you miss most about Stanford and the Bay Area?
Definitely the sunshine. I'm hoping to be able to spend the winters out here and see if I can work on cases in this area. I also grew up here and have lived in the Bay Area my entire life, so the transition to colder weather might be pretty different. Hopefully I can handle that well, but I'm definitely a little nervous.
Additionally, college is one of the only times in your life where you're living in super close proximity to all your friends—in a dorm or in a row house. You can just walk down the hallway and see all your best friends. It was always easy to get everybody together and go do something; all your vacations are coordinated with your friends’ vacations. And so coming out of college, I think it's going to have to be a bit more deliberate to do things with friends and make sure that you're hanging out and that sort of thing.
And then the last thing, at Stanford it's just so easy to learn about really anything that you want. I thought that the policy they have where you can enroll in any class was unbelievable, and I'm going to miss just that dynamic of being able to just be in a class, absorb new material, and get into a new topic, because that's obviously a super easy thing to do at Stanford.
Is there anything else you want to add?
One thing I’d like to mention is to get experience interning somewhere that allows you to use some of what you've learned from MS&E while you still have more of the degree left. If you do that, a lot of the classes will start to feel more useful to you, because you'll see that they have really tangible applications and that many different professional settings could leverage the skills you’re learning. For instance, I had a friend who worked at a startup that was focused on developing some sort of cryptocurrency technology. He never thought that a topic that he learned in an MS&E class would ever help him, but it ended up being pretty valuable. I think most people get internships after their junior year, but if you have a chance to do that after your sophomore year, the material might seem more real-world oriented to you. You might be able to see how what you’re learning in MS&E can affect actual decisions that affect people's lives.